Have you ever seen those bags of bean soup at the grocery store? Not the fancy battered women soup mixes, but the bag that is next to the other dried beans that goes by the brand name “Hambean,” and has like 15 kinds of beans and a little packet of dried “ham” seasoning, which I assume they steal out of packets of ramen (same aisle) when nobody is looking. Anyway, I think that’s gross. Both the idea of stealing flavor packets from Ramen, which is a crime that really only affects the hungover college population, and the idea that you can somehow infuse your bean soup with real ham flavoring by opening a packet of powder.

I firmly believe that packets of powder should be either pixie sticks or cocaine. Or both. But not ham.

And definitely not cheese. Gross.

But bean soup is really, really delicious, so why not make your own? You can either forgo the ham flavoring, as is wise if you’re a vegetarian or having a vegetarian evening, or you can put in…wait for it…HAM! Because what tastes more like ham than ham? Nothing, let’s hope.

I was hankering for some bean soup, since it’s been getting chillier outside. I also had some added motivation. First, I had some leftover ham from Nieman Ranch. And second, I had a brand new Cuisinart pressure cooker that I wanted to use.

Pressure cookers are scary. They’re prone to exploding, and nobody on Iron Chef knows how to use them ever. So every episode you can sit and watch somebody struggle to pry the lid off of a pressure cooker, knowing that one wrong move and the thing is going to go off like an atom bomb and spray the snarky judges and a balding Alton Brown with magma-hot coffee-braised venison or whatever. Plus, they are used in canning to prevent botulism, and botulism is capable of killing me, so I conclude that they are higher up on the food chain of death than I am. That’s my scientific mind going to work.

We had a regular pressure cooker/canner, which I was too afraid to use. Chris had to do it. And there is NOTHING that husbands like more than being recruited to stick around for many, many hours while their hot-tomato-sauce-blistered wife cans pint after pint of stewed tomato, getting progressively more bitchy by the moment. And also leaving him to do the dishes. Very pioneery. Anyway, now our pressure canner is as worthless as Sarah Palin since it’s not compatible with our induction range. So screw it! Moving on!

The Cuisinart electric pressure cooker is SEXY. We’ve been eyeing it for a while, but hadn’t bought it because it wasn’t really considered a necessity, and we were buying other things. Like a house. And a baby. But since I now spend my days having my own breastmilk vomited back onto my clothes, and fighting the urge to send picture-texts of my baby’s poop color to my husband, I haven’t been able to go out and spend very much money. So there was some extra in the coffers, and the pressure cooker was on sale at Costco. And also I break out into hives if I stop spending money for any length of time. Big, red, itchy hives. It’s a consumer allergy. The only known treatment is shopping.

Anyway, making bean soup and roasts and stews is now easier than ever, because I can indulge my pathologic inability to decide what I want for dinner until 4 pm, and still have slow-cooked deliciosity. A roast (once from a frozen state, I won’t lie) takes 2 hours to be fall-apart tender. And bean soup takes 30 minutes. From dried, unsoaked beans. Seriously.

There’s not much to the recipe, really. It’s kind of what you have on hand, vegetable-wise. I used a cup of diced leeks, a cup of diced carrots, a diced half onion, a tablespoon of minced garlic, just over a cup of diced ham, a Tbsp of adobo sauce leftover from a can of chipotle peppers, tons of black pepper, a tsp of thyme, a Tbsp of white truffle salt that I had that was starting to lose its potency, a touch of olive oil for sauteeing, 1 lb of beans, and 6 C of chicken stock. That’s the key part– 1 lb beans to 6 C stock. And you can’t put too much else in there, because if you overfill the pressure cooker, it will explode and you will die or end up looking like that lady who got her face eaten by her friend’s cranky chimpanzee.

Again, you can just omit the ham and adjust the salt as necessary to make this vegetarian. You could add mushrooms, if you desire some extra oomph. The world is your oyster.

A smoked ham hock wouldn’t go amiss, either.

I sauteed the veggies and ham on the “saute” function of the cooker. Yes. It’s that rad.

Then I added my dried bean mix. It’s a mix I made with anasazi beans, lentils, red beans, navy beans, cranberry beans, black beans, pearl barley, and pinto beans. The entire ENORMOUS container of mix (easily enough for 10 batches of soup) cost me under $10. And it’s ALL protein and fiber and vitamins. You can’t beat that nutritive value with a whiffle ball bat.

Then the stock, then 30 minutes of high pressure cooking ( using the button labeled “high pressure”), a natural 20 minute release of pressure, a whir with the stick blender on low speed, and WHAMMO. Bean soup. Delicious, low-calorie, hearty, thick, and stupid-cheap bean soup. And there’s enough for many leftover lunches. Sadly, bean soup is fugly to look at, so not really the ideal photo shoot. And Chris and I had been enjoying a glass or two of classy boxed vino (Bota Box FTW!). So the photos all sucked. Still, you can appreciate its heartiness.

And as a consolation prize for viewing this ugly, yet totally scrumptious soup, I shall show you something gorgeous.


An 8 week old chunky monkey of love.